Some notes about Transport

Transport policy has lurched from initiative to initiative for decades, punctuated by occasional attempts to develop an overarching strategy. If anything, it is becoming more disjoint. At the core is the diversity of approach between roads and railways. Road users pay petrol and diesel taxes, and they pay a road licence fee. Rail users pay for the track access charges, the rolling stock and the train operators. Rail is largely untaxed; roads are heavily taxed through the fuel duties in particular. Buses are treated differently too.

The result is that there is no consistency in price signals between the two, and in effect there are separate road and rail policies. Any attempt to shift between the modes relies on government spending and this in turn falls under the broader constraints of national and local government spending controls.

Much focus has been applied to Network Rail and to the big projects, such as HS2 and Crossrail 1 & 2. While under the protection of a government guarantee, Network Rail managed to rack up more than £30 billion of debt, with no prospect of repaying most (if indeed any) of it. Its management failures are well documented in endless reports. The task now is focused on breaking up parts of it, as much to limit the scope for further failures as to apply a rational structure (or at least have the intention to do so). The government has published further plans for new structures, but as yet little is happening on the ground, not least because the pandemic has decimated the finances of the railways.

Aviation is dealt with almost entirely separately, to the extent that the road and rail connections to a new possible runway in the south east of the UK appear to be of limited importance to policymakers. HS2 will not be connected directly to Heathrow, and indeed it will not even be connected to HS1. The new runway proposal for Heathrow is in the long grass, even before the pandemic struck. Now the net zero targets have raised more questions about the expansion of airports and especially Heathrow.


Latest Publication

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HS2: a conclusion in search of a rationale

September 5, 2019

Transport Publication

What is the question or questions to which HS2 is supposed to be an answer? As with a number of big and long-term projects, as one rationale collapses another is grasped in the attempt to justify doing something, rather than work out whether it is a...


  • Publication Transport A critique of rail regulation
    October 17, 2000

    Beesley Lecture, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, October 17th 2000. Very few privatisations have been free of teething problems, and all new regulatory bodies have faced criticisms, made mistakes, and had to improvise and adapt with experience. Per

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